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Link Africa CEO Imran Abbas is a man on a mission to connect all of South Africa and Africa

Link Africa is South Africa’s largest independent provider of cost-effective, high speed, open access telecommunications infrastructure.

As a leader in the industry, Link Africa has been building and operating Fibre Optic Networks for the past decade; deploying fibre infrastructure that allows the consumer to choose their preferred Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Link Africa’s innovative and patented open access infrastructure utilises light to transfer data through means of glass cabling, making it the fastest and most reliable form of internet connectivity currently available.

In a bid to enable universal access for all, new Link Africa CEO Imran Abbas and his team are shooting for the stars with their patented FOCUS™fibre technology exclusive to them. Link Africa is the only FNO in South Africa with exclusive rights to use FOCUS™ technology which enables fibre optic cable deployment in water & sewer systems in a non-disruptive, non-invasive manner which allows for faster and cheaper fibre installation compared to traditional trenching methods. Its current portfolio has seen rapid expansion into malls and business parks with increased operational capacity to ensure 24/7 customer satisfaction.

Universal Open Access

Link Africa’s aim is to create a level playing field which provides multiple ISPs with the opportunity to offer their services over a shared infrastructure to everyone. This is not about owning the infrastructure, but rather working together and sharing what is already in place, for the greater good.

Abbas explains: ”The main aim here from a network perspective is to stop competing on the infrastructure layer. It doesn’t matter how many kilometres of fibre you have or how many towers you have, your competition should be on the services layer. I can have thousands of customers in South Africa without having a single kilometre of fibre.

”By embracing Universal Open Access, countries unlock the full potential of the telecommunication sector. In South Africa, for example, it can enable full digital transformation across various sectors, whether you’re talking mining, telco or even banking.”

According to Abbas, Universal Open Access can be facilitated through a combination of regulatory measures and a collaborative effort among the various stakeholders.

However, this will require an open mindset from all involved.

”A lot of the tech guys still come with the old mindset of putting importance on the infrastructure layer, but if you don’t have an open mindset and an infrastructure sharing agreement, which can be reciprocal in the market, there will continue to be gaps.

”It needs to be a collaborative partnership between everyone—government and private cooperations—and we are prepared to have this discussion. We have already offered this solution to our direct competitors, which is a lot of the fixed line operators in South Africa. We’ve met all the CEOs and the CTOs, and we are prepared to have a discussion with all of them on this.”

Making Link Africa work

While ensuring collaboration is vital, there are other stumbling blocks which need to be overcome to ensure the success of Link Africa.

Some of these key challenges lie in digital transformation, service security, cloud adoption, data management, and privacy—especially given the framework of the POPI Act. Then there is the question of talent acquisition and retention, customer experience, regulatory compliance, and scalability—all of which are important components.

Abbas, who became the CEO of Link Africa in early 2023, explains: ”I have taken over a great team here, but the challenge I am faced with is still being regarded as ‘infrastructure play’ and I need the mindset to change. This is not just with the current staff of Link Africa, it is the mindset of industry leaders like CTOs and CEOs across the industry.

”If we can change this mindset in South Africa, I think the talent acquisition will improve. When I say talent acquisition, I am not just talking about staff, I am talking about the C-level players—there needs to be a change in mindset. We have great leaders in South Africa with great knowledge of our South African technology, our South African networks, the intelligence the networks bring into it, yet we have a lot of our operators bringing people from outside the country to become CTOs without understanding our dynamics and our political environment.

After 10 years of experience, we have been supporting MNOs, FNOs and ISPs ignite successby innovating ways for them to operate on our network as an extension of theirs. Our agility means that links in connected buildings are delivered in as little as 30 days from order acknowledgement, delivering earlier revenue recognition to our customers.

Link Africa’s solutions are designed to grow with your business. Whether you’re a small startup or a large Telco, our scalable connectivity options can be customized to accommodate your current and future requirements.

In South Africa’s challenging energy landscape, Link Africa’s network stands strong amidst loadshedding. We have invested in robust backup power solutions, ensuring that our support team is available 24/7 to address any concerns or technical issues promptly, allowing you to focus on what’s important.

The Link Africa difference

In order to offer the best of themselves, Link Africa have to be nimble and make decisions quickly.

While they may be a relatively small entity, Abbas believes those characteristics are what set Link Africa apart from the competition—and that’s not even mentioning the full extent of their fibre network infrastructure across South Africa, which enables reliable, high speed connectivity.

Another key aspect for Abbas has to do with always giving your best for the customer. Since taking over the reins, his message has been one of customer centricity, as without the customer, a business has no chance of survival.

A tactical approach was taken in this regard.

”We look after our employees—and they end up looking after the customer. Although we use a fully customer-centric approach, it starts with our employees. We have changed the focus a bit to say our number one KPI is employees, and by sorting out your employees, they inadvertently address customer.”

”My belief is you cannot create a customer-centric approach if you don’t look after your own team, because there is no way the company will end up looking after your customer. As a result, our net promoter score has improved from a customer perspective. We were negative last year; we have now jumped over 40 basis points to positive 40 this year.

”The exact same thing happened with our employees. In a recent survey, we have jumped from a negative 20% to a positive 45%, so we are changing that aspect.”

Innovation is also a stand-out feature of the Link Africa operations. As things stand, the entity is working to become the first operator in Africa, not just South Africa, to become metaverse-ready.

For those unfamiliar, the metaverse, as described by TechTarget, is ‘a vision of what many in the computer industry believe is the next iteration of the internet: a single, shared, immersive, persistent, 3D virtual space where humans experience life in ways they could not in the physical world’.

While there are some issues to iron out, Abbas is confident that Link Africa can be an African pioneer in this regard.

”Through our innovation and future readiness, we are trying to become metaverse-ready. We are ready from an African perspective to talk metaverse and to talk metaverse-ready networks, but we are looking at our metro layers and our international IP transit to make sure our latencies drop down. Metaverse readiness talks purely about latency and not necessarily about capacity and capabilities, so we are trying to make sure in the next few years that we resolve the latency issue and become one of the first fixed line companies in Africa to be fully metaverse-ready,” he explains.

”We are anticipating a growing demand for full virtual and augmented reality services, so by getting metaverse-ready, we are going to be able to provide these different services.”

Success, goals, and the future of Africa

In terms of Link Africa’s goals for the future, the emphasis remains on reaching as many people as possible.

”Getting into the remote areas, connecting the unconnected, is so important to us, so expansion of our network coverage remains a huge challenge. There’s a lot of places where there’s absolutely no coverage and there is no infrastructure, so we are aiming to close that gap by expanding our network. When we finalise a new capital raise, we’re looking at investing in those areas, so we want to expand our network coverage and ensure connectivity to the most remote areas of South Africa,” Abbas says.

In closing, Abbas shared Link Africa’s desire to help improve Africa as a continent. The reality is that a strong Africa is hugely beneficial to South Africa. This bid to strengthen the continent can only be done by embracing unity and collaboration, which, again, is the cornerstone of Universal Open Access.

”We need to embrace unity and collaboration not just within our nation, but across the entire African continent. South Africa is regarded as a leading player in African telecoms, but we still have a unique opportunity to support the growth and development of Africa as a whole. We need to recognise the potential and talent that exists within our diverse country and continent, and we must foster a spirit of cooperation and sharing in order to progress.

”Link Africa, as a proud South African company, is committed to playing a part in connecting the unconnected in Africa. We want to drive innovation and empower businesses across Africa. Together, we can harness our collective strengths and work towards a future where every African can try and contribute to the success of our continent as a whole,” he concludes.

And we are right behind you on that one.

By Editor